It seems thereís plenty of talk about chickens lately. Amongst my friends, I am known as a chicken lady. Iíve received many questions about my flock and experienced being the punch line for well meaning jokes. Itís true, my family and I raise chickens and have for over ten years, probably going on fifteen but I canít exactly remember when we started. I know my youngest daughter was walking with shoes and had lots of hair. But I digress.

Chicken keeping is a pleasure for me and my family. They are animals who donít need a lot of interaction, but as you may remember in a column I wrote a few weeks back about Hattie, my hen, they will communicate when they feel the need. Chickens are helpful in a few ways but mostly itís about hens laying eggs. They earn their keep. Most hens raised in the local area only lay one egg every other day, whilst a Leghorn may lay every day for the majority of the year. Hence, a leghorn is your best layer. 

What Iíve noticed within the last few years is the fact backyard chicken keepers are becoming quite prolific.

The question is why?

I think one reason could be a need has arisen for a simpler life.  Chickens are easy with upkeep as they put themselves to roost every evening, their social behavior is fascinating, and they provide a simple chore for the youngest in the family as to gather the eggs early in the morning. Perhaps the main issue could be the fact our society is tired of having our food maltreated before it makes arrives upon our table.  When my husband and I decided to keep happy hens, we werenít only thinking about the quality of eggs and chicken, we were thinking about teaching our children how to survive if need be; how to put their hands to a chore worthwhile. Albeit, as years passed we realized our choice paid off when facts about growth hormones and antibiotic injections into mass produced fowl became common knowledge.

When approaching the question as to raise chickens in oneís backyard, hereís some thoughts to consider: A rooster is a handy chicken who many overlook in importance if they donít wish to have baby chicks or a daily announcement the sun has risen. However, he is an important part in a flockís social structure as he protects his ladies from natural predators or strangers who enter their territory. I have witnessed one of my Rhode Island Red roosters defend against a red tailed hawk and win.  He was a bit beat up, but he recovered to live several more years. The hens know heís in charge and will listen when he communicates trouble is near. However, they also know when heís just being annoying and will peck his head when heís out of line.

Happy chickens are free-ranged fowl that spend a great deal of their days in a yard eating bugs and pestering one another. My ladies have a specific place they like to lay their eggs and unfortunately, most of the hens all want the same place.  It isnít unusual to find two hens in one nest cooperating. From time to time Iíll find a secret laying spot with several eggs hidden from sight. To find out if theyíre fresh eggs I use the water trick.  Fill a glass half full of water. Place the egg in water. If it floats, itís bad.  If itís vertical, boil it. If it sits on the bottom, itís fresh. Eggs have a protective coating, (bloom), when theyíre laid, protecting it from bacteria. If itís washed, the bloom is removed and bacteria can enter the egg, hence it must be refrigerated. A bloom covered dozen eggs can stay fresh for well over a month. Chickens allowed to free-range lay eggs containing less cholesterol and saturated fat, more vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid than their caged sisters.  When viewing a raw egg, there is a visible difference between a store-purchased, processed egg and a free-ranged egg. Backyard chickens are a lot of fun and healthy for a family. There are many places around Santa Rosa County where fresh yard eggs are available for a small cost ranging between $2 to $3 per dozen.